Back to Carter

Back to Carter

By David Warren - February 22, 2009

Barack Obama was at his best in Ottawa this week, charming and well-rehearsed through a brief and inconsequential visit, and flattering in the joint announcement of such vacuities as the "clean energy dialogue." Stephen Harper, too, escaped any difficulty, with the greater challenge of basking in Obama's golden glow. It is nice that both Caesars have come to bury carbon, not release it into the atmosphere.

The serious "dialogue" may begin when the Obama administration resolves to "bury" carbon through "cap and trade," and put California-dreamin' emission standards on all cars, with the Canadian government following loyally behind, like a prisoner tied to a jeep by a cord. There is the little matter of our failing auto industry; but the larger one of what happens to our cash cow, Alberta, if and when Obama and Congressional Democrats put Americans' money where his mouth was during the election campaign.

That he may well be as good as his word, on the "green" issues among others, is an appalling thought, given the present economic fragility.

The series of gestures on moral issues with which he has begun his presidency (executive orders made or impending on taxpayer funding to promote abortions, and on stem cells that require the destruction of human embryos), and the recklessness with which the "stimulus bill" was rammed through Congress (loaded with funding for various Left-Democrat causes despite Republican outrage), should help us to realize that only his promise of bipartisanship was misleading.

But while I might argue there is no moral justification for the new directions, there is certainly a democratic justification: for Obama, as he has been at pains to remind his political adversaries, won the election.

Indeed, he was fortunate to benefit when the American public was suddenly distracted by a financial crisis, from what was turning (via the Sarah Palin candidacy, and Catholic rebukes of Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi) into an interesting discussion of life issues. My reader may recall that that discussion corresponded to the moment when Obama slipped behind in the polls.

Likewise, foreign affairs were suddenly thrust into the back trunk. I argued last year that it was hard to take seriously a foreign policy that seemed to consist of punishing America's friends, and encouraging her enemies; that offered, for example, threats to Pakistan but dialogue with Iran.

I did not at the time expect that it would ever come into play, however, for I assumed that even if Obama won the election, more sober influences within the Democratic Party would prevail, and in the end he would find himself with something that secretly resembled the Bush doctrines.

I have lost that confidence since watching the new White House destructively criticize Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai, congratulate Venezuelans on constitutional changes that will enable Hugo Chavez to be president-for-life, deliver an entirely gratuitous apology for American behaviour towards the Islamic world, and send George Mitchell off to the Middle East to strike a more "balanced" posture between Israel and Hamas. This, after decisions on Guantanamo that signal a new "catch and release" approach to the world's most dangerous terrorists.

While I doubt Americans intentionally voted for any of that, they did sign a blank cheque for unspecified "hope" and "change," and they did endorse a candidate whose popularity was not only greater abroad than at home, but especially high among anti-Americans. They now have a President who is taking lectures from such as Desmond Tutu. He warns that Obama will squander the world's goodwill if he does not immediately apologize to the Iraqi people for the "unmitigated disaster" in which George Bush freed them from Saddam Hussein.

The western world has a new captain who must deal with such problems as the one presented to NATO forces in Afghanistan, by the Kyrgyzstan government's decision to evict the U.S. from a major forward air base, at a time when supply routes through Pakistan are increasingly endangered. We have some idea how such a problem would have been dealt with by previous administrations, behind the scenes. We have no idea how the Obama administration will deal with such things.

And we will see. Meanwhile, my most sanguine impression, in a sweeping view of the economic, social, and foreign prospects of the new American executive -- which embraces also the chaos we have seen in cabinet appointments and the like -- is that we have already returned to the Carter era. I hope it won't be worse than that.

© Ottawa Citizen

David Warren

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